DULUTH, Minn. — Britt Levander shakes a can of spray paint. A turquoise mist dusts darkened wood lath. She splatters paint speckles on top — stars to her Northern Lights sky.
Levander specializes in mosaic wood art for her Duluth business Tangled Walnut.
Her woodworks range from crisp-colored hangings resembling quilt squares to others that look like layered snowflakes. The majority are multidimensional mountains with snowy peaks on top of skies in lilac, turquoise, peach, yellow.
Levander uses paint from WLSSD’s Household Hazardous Waste Facility & Product Reuse Center, and much of the lath and frames are made from reclaimed or donated wood.
“Reclaimed paint is more important to me than the reclaimed wood because that goes back into the earth. The paint, if you’re not using it, it’s so toxic, that’s better to put on something,” she said.
And there’s no need to pay for paint when you can mix the colors you need, added Levander’s father, John Larson.
The two work as a team. Levander designs and constructs her pieces with glue, screws. She has a miter saw and a circular saw. She arranges the puzzle pieces into the aesthetically pleasing arrangements. Larson helps where she needs it. “I work for her; she’s the boss,” he said.
“I refuse to own a table saw. I’m kind of terrified of them and don’t want to chop any fingers off,” she said.
One piece may take three days, and Levander works by tackling her works in bulk: cutting, gluing, constructing. Preparation and assembly are split between her home workshop and Larson’s two-floor Superior garage.
Standing in the building’s ground-level, Levander flicks paint on her latest piece in light splatters.
“Like Bob Ross says, ‘There are never any mistakes, just happy coincidences.’ You have to approach it that way,” Larson said. “Sometimes, it turns out, and sometimes, it doesn’t. That’s OK.”
And he should know; creativity is a family “disease,” they said.
Larson is quick to share about power tools, colonnades and home design history from the 1920s. His day job was engineer, and Larson refinishes furniture, and has remodeled or upgraded elements in every house they’ve owned.
Because of her upbringing, construction doesn’t worry her, Levander said.
“That’s why I look at things and think, ‘I can make that.’ ”
Paintings from Larson’s four daughters hang in the second-floor studio of the garage he built. Each portray a lifelike forest scene with water flowing under a bridge, each made during a family paint night.
They craft things whenever they’re together, Levander said.
She used to sell knitted hats on Etsy before jumping into wall hangings three years ago after seeing a wood artist during a family trip to Colorado.
Slivers are the main hazard with working with wood. New wood is easier to remove; old wood splits. And there’s the occasional misplaced screw. Levander has a large bruise under her thumbnail.
Working with reclaimed paint can be smelly — don’t use the stinky ones, she said — and it’s difficult to remove the lid on some. But she has a wide variety of colors, and mixes what she doesn’t have.
Levander boxes scrap wood for later use, or she burns them in her fireplace along with sawdust.
None of this feels like work for the stay-at-home mom; it’s a way for expression, she said.
And a joy for her is selling her at craft fairs. An extrovert, Levander said when she’s not working with her dad, she’s building alone in her basement. The work feeds her creativity, and selling feeds her need for social time.
Levander has started to shift into glow in the dark paint and more marbling techniques. She has designs on resin and wood. Her go-tos are gradient pink, orange, yellow horizons. Another staple is turquoise, her favorite color.
As far as her business name, she and Larson had some ideas, but she ultimately liked the ring of Tangled Walnut, which she pulled from a few inspirations.
She likes the look of a walnut tree, and: “I’m kind of goofy, a little bit of a nut.”
Click here to view time lapse videos of Britt Levander working on her mosaic pieces.